Well, that was an entertaining 2010 Winter Olympics hockey tournament. However, that's now in the past. It's time to return focus on the NHL and the first week of what should be a busy March. Right away, there are games and the NHL trade deadline on Wednesday. The New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins will both hope the break does them well to be more consistently good. The Philadelphia Flyers will hope the break doesn't break their stride as they won their last 4 games. The New York Rangers and New York Islanders hope they'll come right off the break to pick up points and jump back in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
Believe it or not, the Devils have the benefit/curse of a short week. Their first order of duty after the Olympics is a 3 game road trip out to the western part of the continent to play San Jose, Calgary, and Edmonton. They only play two of those games this week whereas the rest of the division will play 3 games. This means Pittsburgh has a great chance to finally - finally - leap frog the Devils for first in the division. On the other hand, the benefit for the Devils is that they'll go into next week with an extra game in hand on everyone.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
The most intriguing team among the division here is Philadelphia, in my opinion. They went into the break with four straight wins and they are now at the top of a very crowded Eastern Conference playoff race. Boston, who has been just as hot, is right behind them with 65 points; and the Flyers remain 8 points behind fifth place Buffalo. They got a great chance to rise above the rest of the East with two games against playoff-fighters Tampa Bay and Florida with Buffalo on Friday. The goal for them will be to pick up right where they left off, so they can remain at the top and perhaps start chipping away Buffalo's gap - making Friday's game rather important in the long-view.
Here's how the first week back from the Olympic break will look for the division:
|NJD||@ SJ||@ CGY|
|PIT||vs. BUF||@ NYR||vs. DAL|
|PHI||@ TB||@ FLA||@ BUF|
|NYR||@ OTT||vs. PIT||@ WSH|
|NYI||vs. CHI||@ ATL||vs. BOS|
In terms of intra-division games, there's only one this week: Pittsburgh at the Rangers on Thursday. Again, Pittsburgh can use that game to jump over the Devils by virtue of having an extra game. They are only behind by 1, so even an overtime/shootout loss can be enough to close the gap if they pick up points elsewhere. The Devils haven't been good on the road at all during their January/February slump. Their last road win came on January 23, 2010 against the New York Islanders. This first game back will be a doozy because San Jose is a fantastically talented team; so I'm going to scale back my predictions. I hope the Devils come out of this week with at least 2 points.
Yes, I do realize that may mean Pittsburgh will take first place within this week. Keep in mind that the Devils limped into the break, they've had 2 weeks off, and now their key players will be returning from the Olympics - and now they will play the top team in the Western Conference. A win over San Jose would be fantastic, yet I wouldn't get my hopes up immediately. I feel it's more important that the Devils start playing well and work their way back into form. The wins will come when that happens, hopefully over the Quitter's Flames on Friday.